By Diane Anderson-Minshall
Originally published on Advocate.com October 17 2012 3:02 PM ET
Warning: Possible Spoilers
If you hated the first season of American Horror Story, you still may love American Horror Story: Asylum. The seasons are different enough, with actors rearranged into new roles, and none of them are self-absorbed, philandering yuppies.
1. The show is set inside Briarcliff, an insane asylum that is staffed by some truly sadistic religious folks (Jessica Lange as a nun, James Cromwell as a doctor, Joseph Fiennes as a priest) as well as cute, nerdy, well-intentioned psychologist Oliver Thredson, played by gay actor Zachary Quinto (whose welfare we’re concerned for as soon as he hits the screen). The terrifying ’60s-era setting is even more of a character than the house was on season 1, and all for the better. The milieu itself keeps viewers on the edge of their seats throughout the first two episodes.
2. Clea DuVall plays Wendy, a lesbian schoolteacher, and she’s as magnetic as she was in But I’m a Cheerleader. Lesbian viewers have loved DuVall since she starred in Little Witches (yeah, sure, it was like The Craft, but who cares?). Nearly everything she’s done since — from Girl, Interrupted to HBO’s Carnivàle — has been lauded, and Asylum is no different. It’s a small role (as far as we know), but it’s so pivotal it sets up one of the season’s biggest plotlines. Now if she can just stay alive long enough for us to enjoy it.
2. Sarah Paulson (who was a medium on season 1) is back in a role even juicier: she’s Lana Winters, a whip-smart, underappreciated lesbian journalist (back when women were relegated to writing about cooking contests at newspapers) who goes on a hunt to discover the secrets behind Briarcliff and finds herself in over her head. There’s not much more that can be told without ruining the fun, but suffice it to say Paulson, who is gay in real life, turns in the kind of performance we always knew she had in her.
3. In Asylum, Chloë Sevigny — who last played a sexually repressed Mormon wife who wouldn’t even accept cunninlingus on Big Love — portrays Shelley, a crazy, wanton slut. And she has never looked sexier. Seeing her punished for her sexuality is like a scene ripped from some kind of crazy, ’60s-era S/M pulp fantasy. I’m sure it only gets kinkier from here.
4 James Cromwell (who many of us remember fondly from his kindly, award-winning turn in Babe) is wickedly sadistic doctor Arthur Arden. He’s got secret rooms, macabre methods, and some kinky sexual behaviors you have to see to believe. Hearing him tell a young woman to show him her “mossy bank” is as cringe-worthy and creepy as it sounds. And that’s a tame scene.
5. Adam Levine shows up in episode 1 as Leo, a newlywed who takes his horror-loving wife (played Jenna Dewan-Tatum) to America's most haunted sites for their honeymoon. I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to admit that things don’t go as well as planned, but there is a rather kinky (but slightly aborted) sex scene you may want to freeze on your TiVo for a few extra minutes next time you want to skip the Viagra.
6. There is exorcism scene in one of the first two episodes. It sounds corny, I know, because for a show with all sorts of weird stuff (SPOILER ALERT) like aliens, Nazis, iron-fisted nuns, possibly cannibalistic Silence of the Lambs–worthy serial killers, exorcism is quite tame. But gay showrunner Ryan Murphy has helped create an exorcism scene worthy of attention and imbued it with so much perverse sexuality it’s hard not to read between the lines about the characters' proverbial monsters in the closet.
7. Jessica Lange is back. So wicked in season 1, she’s devilishly good here as that aforementioned iron-fisted nun who whips (bare-bottomed) naysayers with riding crops and has her own (sexual) secrets simmering just below the surface at all times. The character is never as black-and-white as her habit, though; as with season 1, you’ll be left guessing exactly what she’s up to and whose side she’s on at all times.